What word do you offer the dying?

I read tonight in a Facebook conversation a question like this: If you were at the hospital bed of someone who said they believed in God but could not say they thought Jesus was his divine Son, would you trust that God accepts sincere seekers or would you try to do something about his doctrine?

That is not exactly the question, but it is close enough for blogging.

I’ve been thinking about it. My instinct, of course, would be to do or say whatever I thought would bring a dying person comfort. But what I fear is that my impulse to do this would prove to be false comfort.

I don’t see any point in any circumstance of arguing doctrine with a dying man. But I do wonder if the better course would not be to urge him to pray for the faith he lacks. Faith, after all, is not something we create in ourselves, but something we receive, and all who seek for it will find it if they do not relent, or at least that is what Christians such as John Wesley have always taught.

I know that answer probably does not pass the CPE exam at my local hospital.

7 thoughts on “What word do you offer the dying?

  1. I relate 100%. While I would be tempted to provide false comfort to a dying person, I couldn’t, in good conscience, allow myself to leave it there. I think the more honest and more loving approach is to do exactly what you said — urge them to pray for the faith they lack. It is a tough situation, but it helps me to realize I’m not responsible for convincing the person. I am simply called to be Jesus to him and the issue of his eternity is between him and God.

    Thank you for your post. Blessings.

  2. Our ordination vows, yeah even our “calling”, and supremely the work of the Holy Spirit challenges us to share the Gospel with love and integrity. Now how one shares the Gospel is vital in every situation as well as beside a dying man’s bed. We never evangelize people–we share the good news of Who Jesus Christ is in our own lives. I can’t and should never tell someone else what to believe, however I am called to share what Jesus has said about himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life and now comes to the Father except through me”, and “If you have seen me you have seen the Father for the Father and I are one.” The most compelling faith-sharing is our sharing how Jesus as the Lord and Savior has literally changed our life! Upon sharing what Jesus has said about himself we must trust the Holy Spirit to be the “hound of heaven” as Wesley said and that “conversion happens through the Holy Spirit and our building a relationship with the person. Time is limited, so we may feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit during our second, third, or fourth visit to simply ask, “have you considered what we talked about during our last several visits?” and, “Would you like to share more of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly?” I have felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit on many occasions to pray the prayer of salvation–Justifying Grace–with many persons on their death bed. Often many people in the family accept Christ as well while in the hospital room.
    Clive Staple Lewis is right, “We were made for heaven, not for earth”. So why would we not speak of the Lord of heaven and earth? Why not share with them who the King of Kings happens to be in a spirit of love and through non-manipulative conversation?

  3. I have had several, very moving experiences with death-bed conversions. Reading the journals of John Wesley probably is responsible for moving me beyond CPE pastoral care in this matter. In fact a CPE chaplain is actually dissuaded from presenting Christ to patients out of respect for a patient’s own religion. After some years of approaching the dying with my well-ingrained CPE training (I had 5 units of CPE), I realized that I was no longer a CPE intern. I was not bound to the guidelines of the hospital anymore; rather I WAS the PASTOR. So, I became more overt in my ministry to those who were hospitialized or dying (but actually we are ALL dying, aren’t we?) These restrictions on hospital chaplains are probably the reason I have little interest in chaplaincy.

    Usually I made a point to ask people to tell me about their relationship with God (if they were able). That would frequently give me an opening to share Christ with those who seemed to have no personal relationship with Him. Sometimes, if time was obviously short, I would be even more assertive. Once, I felt distinctly led to pray for a man near death who had, had heart surgery. The spirit moved me to boldly pray, “God, heal Joe’s heart, warm it with the power of your Holy Spirit as you warmed the hearts of the men who were walking to Emmaus. Open Joe’s eyes to recognize our Lord Jesus….etc.” Although Joe was hooked up to lots of equipment, and he could not speak, he opened his eyes. His wife was present, and even though Joe had lived a life that few would call commendable, there was a distinct sense of peace in that hospital room. His wife could testify to that.

    My advice is to pray in the Spirit and be BOLD in presenting Christ when you are blessed to have the opportunity. It is never too late.

      1. I have a number of such stories I might share…The sad truth is that they are not appreciated by most of my colleagues. I get raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders when I share them. It almost seems like I am casting pearls before swine. Such experiences can seldom be claimed on our dashboards. My former bishop (now retired) even wrote a blog post that discounted death-bed conversions.

        Thank you for letting me share.

  4. If they are requesting you to come chances are they already know who you are and what you believe.
    They know the God you worship.
    A Muslim will not be requesting a Christian at their bedside.
    Catholics will request a priest and most likely not accept anything but a Catholic priest to administer comfort and last rights.
    Those that have never made a commitment will be those that need to hear the gospel and chances are they have some thought on some god and will need to be directed.

    I have always found people that are asking the question usually know the answer in these situations. They are seeking comfort and assurance. These situations are not restricted to clergy. Many times it is family and friends who the dying find the most comfort from. The request of clergy give the official declaration and are viewed as an authority figure representing their God and clergy are a comfort to the family.

    1. Jesus makes a statement to his disciples that should give every Christian pause.
      It is recorded in Mark 14:21Christ said:
      21 But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

      Was Christ referring to the final moments of Judas here on earth, what would await him in the afterlife or a combination of both. Those answers we do not have.
      What we do know is to betray Christ has consequences beyond our knowledge.
      Is it a betrayal of God to accept “other gods“?

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